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TROY

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Peter O'Toole, Sean Bean, Garrett Hedlund, Julie Christie, Saffron Burrows, Rose Byrne
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Three featurettes, 3-D visual tour, trailer, Easter egg
Length: 162 minutes
Release Date: January 4, 2005

"Mênin aeide thea Pêlêïadeô Achilêos."

(Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus' son Achilles).

- Homer, opening to The Iliad

Film *** ½

The ancient city-state of Troy, or Ílion, was once located in Asia Minor (now Turkey).  Troy's men were its symbolic lions, and behind its legendary massive defensive walls, Troy was a thriving mecca for trade between the civilizations of the east and west.  Its riches and economic might made Troy the envy of many Greek kings and princes, with the mythical Trojan War being the ultimate consequence of that jealous hunger for Troy's wealth.  This ultimately tragic conflict was fought over a ten-year period between Mycenaean Greeks, under the supreme command of Agamemnon, and the men of Troy, ruled by wise Priam with his princes Hector and Paris by his side.

Much of the popular mythology for this ancient war comes from Homer's Iliad.  Meaning "about Ílion," this epic poem was composed in the 8th or 9th century BC and is an account of the most pivotal weeks of the Trojan War during its tenth and final year (the war presumably took place in 1193-1183 BC, although the exact date has been long disputed).  Today, the Iliad is one of the oldest surviving literary documents in the Greek language.  While other famous epics have heralded Troy's power and influence, including Homer's own Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid, the Iliad remains the most descriptive ancient text of the former majesty of Troy.

Homer's epic focuses primarily on the Greek hero Achilles and the major influence of the Greek Gods upon the war's eventual outcome (the first nine years of the war having been comprised mostly of an extended siege of the city).  The Iliad opens with a heated and disruptive dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon and concludes with the downfall of Prince Hector, Troy's bravest champion.  Other generally accepted aspects of the Trojan legend, such as Paris' abduction of Helen from King Menelaus, Achilles' final fate, and the legend of the Trojan Horse itself, are not actually described in the Iliad.  In general, Homer's epic is believed to be a fusion of many events and heroes from countless different battles fought against Troy over the centuries.  Even the legend of the famous Trojan Horse may itself be a metaphor for an earthquake or perhaps a battering ram, either of which could have weakened the walls of Troy and allowed for the eventual storming and razing of the city by the Mycenaean Greeks.  While Troy may have been the eventual vanquished foe in this conflict, in fact both the Trojan and Mycenaean cultures were destroyed as a consequence of the aftermath and repercussions of the war.

The events of the Trojan War are the basis for Wolfgang Petersen's epic film Troy (2004).  A loose adaptation of portions of the Iliad along with other historic texts involving the war, the film Troy is in essence the story of one man - Achilles of the Myrmidones.  The film traces the events leading up to Achilles' decision to join the war, his heroics during the siege of Troy, and his ultimate fate in Troy's final hours.

The establishing early portions of Troy should be familiar to anyone with even a minimal understanding of the Trojan War.  Paris (Orlando Bloom), young prince of Troy, has spirited away the ravishing Queen of Sparta, Helen (Diane Kruger), purported to be the most beautiful woman in the world.  The shunned husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), brother to Agamemnon (Brian Cox), King of all Greek kings, requests his brother's aid in retrieving his erstwhile wife, lately of Sparta and now of Troy.  And so, Agamemnon, as supreme commander, amasses a tremendous fleet, the largest ever known in the ancient world, to strike down upon Troy for its sins of defiance and avarice.  Agamemnon is, after all, a man who lives by a simple creed - "Peace is for the women and the weak.  Empires are forged by war."

Among the Greeks are such mighty warriors as Ajax and Odysseus (Sean Bean), but the mightiest of all to answer the call to battle is Achilles (Brad Pitt), greatest of the Greek heroes.  Persuaded by Odysseus to set aside his long-standing dislike of Agamemnon, Achilles leads his band of loyal Myrmidones and his younger cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund) to war.  The Trojan War will surely be a grand conflict, and all those who participate in it will earn immortality, the glory of their heroic feats ringing through the annals of human history for all time.

Opposing this mighty swell of Greek warriors sailing for the Trojan shores are the armies of King Priam (Peter O'Toole), led by Hector (Eric Bana), heir to the throne of Troy.  By Hector's side is Paris, who unfortunately can neither match his brother in valor and bravery nor in skills with arms.  Paris' talent is in the wooing of women, although this proves to be his central flaw as well (not to mention the inciting cause for the Trojan War).  Enamored fans of Orlando Bloom may bemoan the actor's cowardly and ineffectual persona in Troy, but Paris' flawed characteristics do provide a basis from which the Trojan prince might redeem himself by the film's climactic, if poignant, finale.

With Achilles, the Greeks are sure to succeed.  Without him, they can only tremble and scatter before the impenetrable walls of Troy while being decimated by the deadly accuracy of the Trojan archers.  But do without Achilles the Greeks must, for Achilles, who has no love for Agamemnon, soon forsakes the Greek king's vision of conquest and destruction after the fleet's arrival upon the beaches of Troy.  Achilles is angered by Agamemnon's seizure of the spoils of Achilles' efforts thus far in the war, namely the captured priestess Briseis.  In his scorn, Achilles withdraws from the war effort, watching dispassionately as the Greek invaders flee before the armies of Troy.  From this heated point of contention between Achilles and Agamemnon, Troy follows the general narrative of the Iliad until the aftermath of the tremendous combat between Hector and Achilles.

For the most part, Troy succeeds quite well as an action-packed blockbuster.  The film abounds with numerous battle sequences.  Aside from the skirmishes which comprise the beach landing, the desecration of Apollo's temple, and the climactic razing of Troy (among other battles), the film includes Hector's clash with the towering Ajax, the one-sided fight between Menelaus and Paris, and the tragic but penultimate clash between truly heroic titans - Hector and Achilles.

That Troy was not a great commercial success during its initial theatrical release is a disappointment, although the reasons for its failure are multiple and quite evident.  Following closely on the heels of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and even featuring some of that incomparable epic's stars), Troy was probably viewed as "more of the same" by audiences, particularly in any comparison between the attack on Troy with the Battle at Helm's Deep.  Critics also flayed at the film's loose version of popularly-accepted Trojan history, as the film essentially condenses the entire ten-year war into a span of mere weeks from the first moments of the beach landing to the final destruction of the city Troy.  Also, in the film, heroes die when they should not or survive when they should already be dead.  Key characters, such as Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia, never even appear in the film or are severely trivialized, such as in the case of Aeneas.  Familial relationships are invented (or discarded) for such characters as Briseis and Patroclus.

Among other criticisms, reviewers rather unsportingly berated the choice of Diane Kruger as Helen of Troy.  In truth, her physical beauty and allure are more than adequate for the role (a minor supporting one, at that), even if she cannot meet the impossibly high standard of being the most beautiful woman in the entire known world.  A more valid critique might be that the romance between Paris and Helen is not as convincing as the affection between Hector and his wife Andromache or even the poignant relationship between Achilles and Briseis.  However, such criticisms miss the point that the central protagonist of Troy is Achilles, not Helen or Paris.  Thus, the relationship between Achilles and Briseis as the film's strongest one is appropriate.

But really, do these changes matter?  Hollywood has never been known for historical accurate filmmaking, and I highly doubt that most audiences are remotely familiar with any of these ancient characters, much less their respective roles within the context of the Trojan War.  Only historical scholars or purists might feel incensed by the numerous liberties taken in the film, and even so, many scholars still disagree over how much of the Trojan War itself is simple invention or myth versus reality.  The bottom line is - debating over the authenticity of a film's presentation of a myth, of all things, is pointless and petty.  Troy, accepted for the Hollywood blockbuster that it is, still remains a highly entertaining film.

Indeed, as Achilles, Brad Pitt is extremely good.  I fully admit to not being a fan of the actor, but he provides an amazingly commanding performance in Troy.  With a bronzed physique that mimicks the musculature of refined Greek statues, Pitt's Achilles is the very image of a larger-than-life epic hero.  Pitt even conveys Achilles' inner demons rather convincingly.  Reviewers who felt that Brad Pitt was miscast were likely to have been intractably set in their views or dislike of the actor (or had not watched the film fairly and with an open mind).

In general, there are many superb performances in the film.  Troy's relative failure at the box office most likely robbed Peter O'Toole of a deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination as King Priam.  Brian Cox is scenery-chewing personified in a delightfully twisted turn as Agamemnon, doomed by his visions of conquest (to be fair, the mythological Agamemnon was actually considered among one of Greek's greatest heroes).  As commander-in-chief, Cox's Agamemnon bravely leads his army in battle, but his hubris is his ultimate undoing, creating not only an unnecessary conflict with the great hero Achilles but also bringing near disaster upon the Greeks.  Rose Byrne is surprisingly moving as Briseis, the Trojan maiden (cousin to Hector in the film) who grows to love Achilles despite herself.  Best of all, however, is Eric Bana as Hector.  His portrayal of the Trojan prince is the epitome of a tragic hero - courageous, noble, and ready to sacrifice of himself that his family or city might survive.  The gravity and wise resonance of Bana's performance offers the proper balance for Pitt's angry Achilles and provides Troy with its true dramatic core.

In short, Troy is a solid film that deserved a better fate.  Hopefully, it may even inspire some viewers to read the epic poem The Iliad from which the film draws inspiration.  Likewise, other fine works of ancient literature deserving of attention include Aeschylus' The Oresteia, describing the downfall of the House of Atreus and its greatest son, Agamemnon, Aeschylus' Achilles (long-lost and recently rediscovered), a trilogy of plays following the Greek hero's feats during the Trojan War, and Virgil's The Aeneid, describing how Aeneas escaped with his family and several hundred Trojans and how, after years of migration, he eventually founded Rome.  Troy may fall in the end, but from its embers will arise the Roman civilization.  That, however, is perhaps a subject for another movie, someday.

Video ****

Troy looks simply majestic.  Ignore the full-screen version and watch the widescreen version instead, which reproduces the theatrical aspect ratio of the film.  Colors are bold with realistic skin tones and solid black levels.  Image sharpness and details are generally excellent, and there is only a trace of grain in darker scenes but nothing distracting.  The bit transfer rate averages 6-7 Mbps and much higher during the numerous battle sequences.

Audio ****

The James Horner score is merely generic but Troy sounds fantastic otherwise.  The sound quality in the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix possesses a rich spatial definition and is aggressively dynamic.  There is abundant use of low frequency encoding to add that extra sonic thunder to the battle sequences.

Features ** ½

Troy is available as a two-DVD set.  The first disc contains the film in its entirety, while the second disc holds several bonus features.  The contents are fairly average in quality but do tend to address the most popular or entertaining components of the film.

First is "In The Thick of the Battle" (17 min.), essentially a Making-Of featurette that concentrates mainly on the film's many massive and exhilarating battle sequences.  Included are numerous rehearsals, dry run-throughs, the actual filming, and even a look at the special effects make-up and mannequins designed to re-create an authentic sense of a battlefield during the Mycenaean Age.  The featurette concludes with a glimpse at the rehearsals and filming of Troy's most spectacular fight, the epic melée between Achilles and Hector.

Next is "From Ruins to Reality" (14 min.).  This featurette relates the intense research required, mixing historical accuracy with a fanciful epic scale, to bring the city of Troy back to life.  Some background archeological information is provided in this featurette.  We can also observe the construction of the Troy set on the island of Malta and on a Baja Californian beach in Mexico (some of the crew comment on how a turtle nursery was created to protect and preserve the natural Mexican beach fauna).  The Trojan Horse itself also makes an appearance in this featurette.

The last featurette is "Troy: An Effects Odyssey" (11 min.), which concentrates on the film's special effects and in-camera shots.  There are many before-and-after comparisons to reveal how computers were used to enhanced several visual shots.  In addition, the second half of this featurette covers the creation of the sound effects and includes a small sample of some of the sound effects (flying arrows, burning flames, sword clashes, etc.) which were incorporated into the film.

One unusual inclusion on this disc is a Gallery of the Gods, a 3-D tour of Mount Olympus and twelve gods of ancient Greece.  Click on a statue of any of the twelve gods in the gallery, and you will activate an animated, one-to-two minute clip about that god's role in Greek mythology as well as in the Trojan War, if applicable.

Finally, there is the original theatrical trailer for Troy as well as an amusing Easter egg.  From the main menu on this second disc, select the Trojan Horse to reveal a 90-second assembly of computer-animated sight gags, the funniest one being a mighty fleet of yellow rubber duckies!

Summary:

History will prove the critics wrong.  Ignore the minor squabbles over the film's artistic liberties or inaccuracies concerning the mythology.  Instead, enjoy Troy for what it is - a first-rate, solidly entertaining blockbuster with rousing action sequences and some very fine performances all around.

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